[Spoiler Alert: This recap containers spoilers about the "Monsters" episode (Season 8, Episode 3) of The Walking Dead.]
To shoot or not to shoot — that is the question. And the Walking Dead writers room has no intention of making it easy on us to choose which side of the barrel we’re on. But that’s actually turning out to be part of the fun, as we realize amid all the Season 8 gunfire, that just about everyone on team AHK brings their personal business into the business at hand. And we do, too.
Both the guiltless killers — Daryl, Tara, the King’s armored legion — and the mercy-first contingent that is Jesus and to a lesser extent Maggie and to an even lesser extent Rick, have all suffered unimaginable losses. If this were just about revenge, every single soul would have reason to shoot first and ask questions never. Likely even the Saviors, who are all largely strangers to us, so who knows what they’re thinking?
Hence, we — like our characters — must necessarily default to our convictions on the idea of whether or not a peaceful society can be achieved with mass murder? Or, more confoundingly, without it, which harkens back to the bigger issue I raised in last week’s recap. What does that mean for a future in which, even if we’re all under proverbial one roof, someone’s sure to get mad about something and sides will be drawn anew?
In 'The Walking Dead' Season 8 episode 2 'The Damned', group members struggle with when to kill and when to show mercy. And both Rick and Morgan encounter men from their past.
But we open with the smiling King and the Kingdomers, ping-ponging back and forth between the King’s beaming prediction of strategy winning out over numbers, and how that actually shakes out. Then the group is surrounded and the strategy comes to light. The Saviors (improbably) don’t fire immediately, allowing one group of the AHKers to throw up their hands in surrender, then kneel while another pops up from behind a line of foliage to launch the destruction of the enemy platoon. Boom and boom.
Meanwhile, Morales and Rick continue last episode's sweaty chat about how they turned out since they parted ways back in Season 1. In Morales’ estimation, they’re both bad guys now — but only Rick is a monster. And also, a prize! “We’ve been told we don’t kill you, the widow or the king,” Morales puffs, “Not if we don’t have to.”
Then he tasks his captive with a little self-reflection. “You’re always the guy willing to rush in — but why?” Morales wonders. “What is it you’re looking for?” It’s rhetorical. Either way, Rick's going to Negan. Or maybe not, if he doesn't act right. I'm going to ignore the part where he just called Rick "Peaches," even if it probably means something pithy.
Back at the firefight at the Saviors’ gun shop (which I finally figured out is just out back from wherever Rick and Daryl are), the freshly minted walkers are snacking away when their surviving brethren are suddenly called back inside. Tobin wonders why they’ve suddenly stopped shooting. They haven’t, his companion points out. They’re just not shooting at them. The survivors about-face, giving the AHKers a chance to pick off a few more.
Away from the action, Aaron tends Eric, who is shot through-and-through. Aaron says that’s good, but Eric doesn’t look good at all. But he still makes a funny. “I’m so sorry,” Aaron gasps. “Are you the one who shot me?” Eric cracks. Then Eric assures his love that he did too want to fight, and he wants Aaron to never mind him and return to battle now, because he’s Zen about his fate. They exchange kisses and I love yous and a sobbing Aaron rushes back into the fight.
Meantime, Tara, Morgan and company are transporting their prisoners from last week’s episode to Maggie, per Jesus’ command. Some are hogtied in the back of the truck. Most are tied together and marching behind it. Tara still really, really, really just wants to shoot every last one of them and makes no bones about it. And ol' Jared has done no self-reflecting in captivity at all. He’s strolling along, grinning and whistling ("Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy") like we’re going to Grandma’s for Easter. Morgan, who is guarding him, isn’t much about that. He’s also still not having Jesus’ plan.
Yeah, it’s mercy versus guaranteed survival, Jesus tells him. But there are many kinds of danger. Many kinds of dying. Execution is not on the docket.
Except it is.
Morales confirms our suspicion that his family never made it to Birmingham. Says the loss made him lose his mind and give up hope, until the Saviors found him and found him worthy. Rick lists all the people they lost too. Tells Morales what Negan did to Glenn and that the widow he’s not allowed to kill is Glenn’s wife. The wife he found in the midst of the apocalypse. Because there's hope. So, then. Is Morales still Negan?
Morales is still Negan — or at the very least, both he and Rick are both just "a couple of assholes who will do whatever it takes to survive." Morales says he's just luckier, because he’s the one holding the gun.
And Daryl’s the one holding the crossbow.
The one he uses to take out the mouthy feller, despite Rick’s howl of “Don’t.”
Morales met up with Rick at in Sunday's episode of 'The Walking Dead.' Is he one of the Saviors?
“I know who he was,” Daryl tells a stunned Rick. “Don’t matter. Not one little bit.” The guns matter.
The guns don’t matter, because they’re not actually here, Rick says.
Who IS here is the Saviors Morales called in for backup.
Back on the march, Jared notices Morgan is wearing Ben’s size XS armor. “Why the hell would you wear that? Didn’t do shit for him,” he taunts. Morgan aims his gun at the loudmouth, but no morality decision is required, because walkers (Gawd, Nicotero, so so good!) are rolling down the embankment beside the road faster than the group can deal with them. Jared’s chain gang uses the opportunity to make an escape into the woods, with Morgan and his automatic rifle in hot pursuit. He catches up quickly, takes out one (Seriously Morgan? NOT Jared first?!) before Jesus tackles him, followed by Tara and Diane. Er, who exactly is minding the other captives? Man-Bun alone?
Anyway, Jesus looks a little less convinced of the whole mercy-is-best deal, but he sticks with it. Morgan, on the other hand, tells it like it is, which is basically a repeat of Morales’ “two-assholes” theory. Only everyone is an asshole. Call it what you want, couch it how you want — everyone is ultimately the same, doing the same thing to survive. And that is kill — even people who may not deserve it.
Jesus says they’re going to have live with these people when All Out War is over, so they have to find a way in which peace can prevail. Morgan thinks that over for about 2 seconds.
Yikes. Morgan’s not joking about wanting Jesus in heaven. But Jesus is a very, very good fighter. Morgan, on the other hand, is by his own admission, “not right.” Seems he wasn’t even mentally connected to the part where he almost crucified Jesus. Or was he? “I know that I’m not right,” he stammers (Lennie James, you’ve just never been better). “But that doesn’t make me wrong.”
Soundly on the side of Team Savior eradication, Tara tells him he is, too, right — at least about that part, if not entirely in the noggin — but Morgan stalks away anyway. Potentially for good. We all know Morgan's once-tenuous grip on reality. Could Eastman's staff-wielding protege be unwilling to let himself be swept back into that?
Ezekiel is still a happy camper, but he isn’t resting on his laurels, noting that the group they wiped out is likely augmented by at least two more. But since we’re counting, “Our first victory will allow our second. Our second will deliver our third.”
Carol isn’t quite so sure.
But the second victory seems just as easy as the first. Hiding behind large-scale equipment, the Kingdom-comers wipe out another batch of Saviors lickety-split. (When exactly did we have time to scout the grounds for the sake of plans as surefire as this?)
'They hold each other up in a very brutal world,' says series star Andrew Lincoln.
Rick and Daryl are having a bit harder time, racing through the halls of wherever they are with Saviors in hot pursuit. And since they thought they were about to score a passel of guns and didn’t, ammo is running low. Rick switches from a rifle to a handgun. Daryl’s less out of firepower altogether. No sweat. Rick shoots a handy-dandy fire extinguisher, creating a smokescreen that keeps them alive until Aaron and company come to the rescue.
Meanwhile, the Hilltop has company, too, but it’s not Jesus and the gang just yet. It’s the devil they know — Gregory. Apparently hoping there are some serious short-term memory issues on the other side of the fence, he howls for sympathy and help. Maggie cracks the gate, scowls, wonders what he’s doing with Gabriel’s car. Gabriel tells a fib, because of course he does. When that doesn't work, he tries to pull rank. Maggie uses her Outside Voice. Gregory says Negan made him say the bad stuff back there at the ambush. He’s pretty sure he’s actually a hero ... if you see it his way. Mags doesn’t. More outside voice. Seems Cal knows what Gregory really says to the Saviors — and he happens to be right up there. And he's still sore about the sorghum pancakes.
Cornered, Gregory finally cuddles up to the truth — for about 4.5 seconds. He admits he fled to the Sanctuary because he knew a fight was looming and he wanted to live. While he was at there, he argued for peace and mercy, he swears. But now he sees the error of his defecting ways. (Pleasepleaseplease fall for it.) He gets downright histrionic. Whether she falls or not, Maggie lets him back in, and his insincerity is pretty well proven by the shock in his eyes. Enid’s flummoxed, too. “He’s not worth killing,” Maggie tells her. “Not yet, anyway.”
How quickly we forget. Mere seconds after his sermon on the inescapable moral flaws in every human, Gregory issues a big no effin’ way to the arrival of the Savior captives. Maggie dismisses him with a terse “Gregory!” But she isn’t certain, either. Yes, there are two empty trailers out back where the captives can be imprisoned and watched around the clock. But, Jesus, Jesus. This place is safe right now.
Jesus wonders what their options are. Can’t let them go. Can’t kill them. So, what? I know what Tara would say. And Daryl. And Morgan.
Yep, the housing and the gun shop are all parts of the same joint, because here comes Rick and Daryl, wading through the dead and undead out back. Somehow Rick still has his Polaroid and snaps a few more souvenirs. (Just like Negan, Rick. Just. Like. Negan.)
Then Rick does some writin’, but we don’t find out what.
Aaron returns to the tree, where there is nothing but Eric’s gun and a fearsome bloodstain. Then he looks up and sees what he dreads most: Eric, undead and shuffling toward the woods. He wants to put him down, but the guy who was fighting alongside Tobin steers him away. I’m guessing we’ll see zombie Eric again.
Then it’s time to roll out — and they have a new addition. Orphaned baby Gracie. Rick says he has a stop to make and Daryl’s on his bike, so could someone please transport the baby to safety. Aaron says he will take her to Hilltop. He and Eric were going to go there anyway to update Maggie.
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Rick’s stop is apparently going to talk to “them assholes” alone. Daryl’s OK with that as long as he doesn’t take too long. Who’s them assholes? Jadis and the junkyard dogs, maybe? We haven’t seen them in a while. In any case, the trip is momentarily interrupted when the pair are shot at.
Herd’s coming, lonely shooter — just sayin’, Rick hollers. If he drops his gun, shows himself and tells them what they need to know, he wins a NEW CAR! Or an old car anyway. And the freedom to go. He has Rick’s word. And a man’s word has to mean something.
The guy steps out from behind a tree. Rick asks him if a specific sort of gun was ever on the premises. Yes. For a while. But they were sent to another outpost yesterday. Gavin’s outpost. Can he go now?
Daryl didn’t give anyone his word at all. He shoots the poor guy in head.
Time to go to Gavin’s.
But someone else is already there, overly confident in the wake of two victories and standing, guns and guard down, beneath the clear blue sky. Where they promptly get a taste of their own killer medicine. Not one, this time. Many.
It’s a bummer, but not entirely unexpected, since we’ve gone 3 episodes of All Out War with but the single loss of a semi-major character. What I’m hung up on most is the movement of the guns, and what it means for how much we can trust Dwight.
Could Negan be willing to sacrifice some of his own underlings to get the AHK gang exactly where he wants them, using Dwight as part of the plan? Or is Dwight simply not as stealth as he thinks and his double-agenting a known fact to Negan?
Austin Amelio has been just cagey enough in interviews where I’m still not 100 percent sure. Telling EW that Dwight’s “a lone wolf,” Amelio alternately lamented fans being unsure of D’s intentions as the actor not doing his job, and offering up semi-cryptic stuff like, “He’s on a personal battle to seek justice for himself and others. The angel on his left shoulder is talking a little louder now than the devil on his right.”
So, there’s still a devil on his right? We all know that his mind is most on the ostensibly still out there Sherry. And just because he’s anti-Negan, that doesn’t instantly equate with pro-Rick. Negan warned the latter that he might he think he knows what is going to happen, but he doesn’t. Is Dwight a part of the prophecy, partnered with Negan or not?
The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC